Nilani Trent stepped away from horses for an entire decade, but when she returned, she made a big splash.

Trent, the founder of Trent Art Advisory in New York City, is both an amateur rider and a serious horse owner, and her current string of two horses is small but highly successful. She campaigns the nine-year-old Oldenburg mare Casablanca 108 herself in the Adult Amateur Jumpers, while she hands over the reins of her 10-year-old Anglo European gelding Autumn Rhythm to Molly Ashe for competition in the High-Performance Hunters and USHJA International Derbies.

Trent has owned Autumn Rhythm, affectionately known as “Gert,” for four years, having purchased him as a somewhat unruly 6-year-old, and has, through hands-on ownership and careful placement, watched him blossom into a top derby horse. The bay has won at shows across the country, including the Washington International Horse Show, the National Horse Show, and the Hampton Classic, and has finished 11th and 25th, respectively, in the past two USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships.

Trent began her journey as an owner after going through a divorce, as she sought to return to the saddle after a 10-year hiatus. “I pawned my engagement ring, and I bought Autumn Rhythm!” she said. When she first acquired the bay, she knew she had a talented horse on her hands, but the gelding turned out to fill a different role than what she had originally expected. After spending so much time away from the saddle, Trent thought returning to the ring on a hunter would be the most appropriate choice, but Gert wasn’t the most suitable mount upon his arrival.

“He had just turned six, and I found out he had just been gelding as well,” Trent recalled. “So, he was the worst match for a green amateur rider. I basically bought this amazingly beautiful horse and was not able to ride him, because he spun me off every time I got on him!”

“[He] was really bred to be a dressage horse, so he’s not like some of these hunters that came over here from Europe jumping 1.30-meter,” she continued. “He was a true pre-green horse when he entered the Pre-Green division. It was his first time jumping a course like that in his entire life.”

So, Trent placed Gert in professionals’ hands, and Ashe took over as the gelding’s primary rider eight months ago. As both Trent and her gelding became more confident in their separate endeavors, they have also occasionally reunited, and last year they won the Amateur-Owner 3’3” Handy Hunter class at the Hampton Classic. Despite that success, Trent says she has no immediate plans to take over as her hunter’s main rider; instead, she has her sights set on the jumper ring. She hopes to acquire a second jumper for herself and has a long-term goal of owning a grand prix horse for a professional.

“I really see this ownership thing as taking me toward my end goal: I really do want to own a grand prix horse for a top grand prix rider someday,” Trent said. “For me, having Garrett in the derbies and being exclusively an owner, I’m really learning a lot about what it means to be an owner and what my role is in getting this horse from Point A to Point B, and that has been an amazing experience. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.”

“As an owner, you always think, people come to you with big offers for horses, and it’s been very tempting, but when you have that one, little-bit bigger win every time, you want to keep them just a little bit longer!”

As both a rider and an owner, Trent has a unique perspective on what it’s like to compete both in the ring and at the in-gate, and she sat down with Noelle Floyd Style to answer our questions:

NF Style: Emotionally, what do you go through as an owner watching your horse compete in a big derby class versus when you are in the ring competing yourself?

Nilani Trent: “Being an owner is so much better! It’s so much better, because I know that I can count on Molly to handle that situation. She’s very steady, she doesn’t get nervous, and I think she’s the most accurate rider that I’ve ever seen in the hunter ring. She really knows where she is, and she knows where my horse jumps well, and she puts him exactly where he needs to be every time.”

What is the financial investment like for you as an owner versus as a rider?

“This is just my hobby. I understand that my horses will never make me any money, but in the long run, I’m never going to make money in this sport. For me, it’s purely about the enjoyment. I’m very hands-on. I know every inch of my horse’s body. I know every experience he’s ever had. I’m in the barn with him. I trail ride him, I hack him, and I have lessons on him, and I’ve seen every round he’s ever jumped. I really know everything about him, so the investment, for me, is purely emotional.

I will say, [Gert] wins very good money in those derbies, and it’s wonderful. It’s nice to know that he’s paid for my horse show bills, including [ones for] my other horses. It’s definitely a sacrifice as an owner when you’re riding that you don’t get to ride your own horse, but if I wanted to, I have that option, and for me, it’s nice to see him step into the role I think he’s meant to be in and really succeed. I think I’d be doing a little bit of a disservice taking him out of that derby role, and it’s not my goal, personally, to jump at that level. Watching him go in with Molly is great to see: It’s great to see them grow as a team, and I think it’s great for the whole morale of the barn. We’re all rooting for them, and I think we’re going to see a lot of amazing results.”

How do the rewards differ between ownership and competing as a rider?

“I have an emotional feeling of success, because I had the option to throw in the towel when he was a very naughty pre-green horse. When I say he was naughty, he spun me off six weeks in a row at WEF when he was a six-year-old! It was tough, but for me, I had just ended my marriage, and I was determined not to give up on this horse. Everyone told me to sell him, but I said, “No. I’m sticking with it, and I’m going to see how far this horse can go.” For me, the reward is that I have stuck with this, and [Garret] is now thriving at what he does, and at just 10 years old, we still have a lot more to see. I feel so fulfilled with the fact that I stuck with it, and we’re now very successful. To me, that personal success is the difference.”

Taking what you have from your experiences, why would you encourage someone to own a horse for a professional as opposed to buying a horse for himself or herself to ride?

“If you like being part of a team the way I do, and you love the sport, you should do it. I didn’t know I would love being an owner until I tried it, but I’ve always loved the sport, and I’ve always been a big team player. I think if you have those two characteristics, you will love being an owner.

I think there’s something so nice about not having the pressure of memorizing the course and going in the ring. There’s something so much fun about being able to watch your horse warm up and know every aspect about what’s gone on with him in preparation. There’s something so lovely about being able to sit at the ring with a glass of champagne and watch your horse go around and not have to worry about the intensity of having to compete yourself!

Then, when you see your trainer or your professional rider come out of the ring with a smile, you know, in that moment, that’s something you helped create. In a small way, you’ve contributed to one of the top professionals in the country having a really great round, and there’s something so nice about that.

You have to look at it like any long-term relationship. What I’m building with Molly is not just something for Gert’s lifetime. It’s something that I hope to continue through multiple horses. Now that I’ve had this experience owning Autumn Rhythm, I really want to continue this experience into Grand Prix horses. I think it’s really important to have a strong trust between owner and trainer and rider in order to have the results that you want.”

-Photos by Erin Gilmore & Tori Repole for NF Style.